Pity / Piety opens with a humming, floating suggestion of voice. It loops with a tension, likely borne from uncertainty, but it’s not long before it gains a sense of context and it’s not much more time after that where “Pity” fully realises its framing. Guitar rings and drones, bass underscores and percussion stays slow, seemingly fraying and keeping the song as a slow procession.
Justin K Broadrick’s vocals come in and dryly echo, seemingly expressing snippets related to the idea of being at one’s limit, or at least being close to an inability to take on any more. It could be related to frustration of an inability to understand how to help others or an other and the perception of the failure of the self in situations of uncertainty.
Broadrick often relies on brief lines for expression. It’s something he’s quite adept at doing; He gets something across in a direct way (at least, his lyrics feel direct), but leaves room for interpretation. On “Pity” this is no exception. The lyrics hit hard with the music and they intertwine as they sink in. However, as they do there’s something else that comes through. There’s a sadness, but there’s also a vulnerability through openness, and perhaps a sense of hope.
“Pity” does little in terms of changing pattern and instead has its sounds shift in priority. It’s fine; it suits the overall feel of the song as it extends forward. Eventually there is a change in pattern where everything becomes warmer, more fragile and dreamy. The emotional weight remains but there’s now a more overt sense of comfort and relation.
Perhaps here the song expresses the strength to accept and work to overcome one’s shortcomings. Whatever it is, it remains prominent when the vocals return for a brief few lines before they stretch out into an implied eternity. It remains as layers gradually peel away and “Pity” grows increasingly bare.
Eventually percussion returns and repeatedly strikes with an energetic thud. The bass also returns for what seems like a moment of small triumph celebrated in a large way. However, instead of a big moment the song moves back to maximal nakedness for a gentle end.
“Piety” starts in a way that is similar and different to “Pity”. The sound is ambient and almost hymnal, but it seems lighter. It seems more relaxed. Soon it quickly pulls away and the song gets into a thickness that follows the gentle introduction, albeit much heavier. The vocals float within the sounds, the guitar and bass crunch as they compress and loosen, and the percussion matches whilst adding a sense of change.
It’s not long before things suddenly drone out almost into nothingness; It’s not long after that before everything picks back up. There’s a quick slowness as some sounds gently press down whilst one rises through the thickness. A fluttering comes into the noise, percussion fills out and pulls away… it’s almost a moment of realisation but it too doesn’t last too long. Much of the instrumentation stops and leaves a distorted guitar to play on its lonesome.
Soon a smooth pulse appears in the background and it’s here where the weight starts to sink in. Broadrick got the lyrics out of the way early; it doesn’t seem like they’ll return. Now holds on a moment and it almost lasts too long. The guitar pulls back and what remains stretches off and joins the pulse. It’s a moment of pause and perhaps acceptance – it’s difficult to tell – and in it is a mix of lightness and heaviness.
Gradual change comes and the sounds continue their slow movement and once more there’s fragility. Guitar returns proper and rhythmically plays out a peacefulness. Eventually it is all that is there in the space, relaxed and at ease, and it’s here where the “Piety” could end but bass – or at least an implication of bass – returns, reshaping the moment into something else.
Dreaminess grows in the background; it seems odd but it’s pleasant enough. Eventually the dreaminess leaves the pulse on its own as a fading moment. As it lingers what could be a voice briefly appears and gently echoes out. The song then moves to silence.
“Piety” is interesting in how it develops. It gets a lot of its overt heaviness out of the way early and shifts into an ambient exploration. It works in terms of allowing emotion to sink in through minimalism. However, like “Pity” (albeit to a lesser degree) at times it seems like there was difficulty in finding direction. It drags hard in places, risking breaking its own spell as it seemingly searches for the next thing. It’s unfortunate as what the song does it does quite effectively, but only up to a point.
For some reason parts of Pity / Piety remind me of Heart Ache and Sundown / Sunrise. Maybe those were influential to this release. Perhaps the three function as parts of a specific theme. Regardless, this is its own thing and it’s not afraid of embracing length; sometimes to its detriment. That said, there’s some beautiful and effective stuff. It’s moving when it needs to be; it’s direct when it needs to be. It’s a bit rough in some places but it carries and captures atmosphere and mood well.
Pity / Piety is available here.